Almanac A members-only database of searchable profiles compiled and adapted from the Almanac of American Politics

Sen. Dick Durbin (D)

Illinois

Leadership: Minority Whip

N/A

durbin.senate.gov

Biography

Elected: 1996, term expires 2020, 4th term.

Born: November 21, 1944, E. St. Louis

Home: Springfield

Education: Georgetown U., B.S. 1966, J.D. 1969

Professional Career: Staff, Lt. Gov. Paul Simon, 1969–72; Legal cnsl., IL Sen. Judiciary Cmte., 1972–82; Prof., S. IL Schl. of Medicine, 1978–82.

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Catholic

Family: married (Loretta) , 3 (1 deceased) children

Dick Durbin, first elected to the House in 1982 and to the Senate in 1996, is the Democratic whip, making him the chief vote-counter for Majority Leader Harry Reid. More diplomatic and less prone to partisan outbursts than Reid, Durbin is respected among colleagues for his willingness to work hard and for his ability to articulate his party’s themes in everyday language.

Durbin grew up in East St. Louis, the youngest of three brothers. His father, a railroad night watchman, died of lung cancer when Durbin was 14. He graduated from Georgetown University and its law school, and then returned to Illinois with an ambition for politics. He joined Democrat Paul Simon’s staff when Simon was the lieutenant governor (1969-73), then was a state Senate staffer in the 1970s. Durbin lost races for the state Senate in 1976 and for lieutenant governor in 1978. But in 1982 he won the nomination to oppose Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Findley, who had characterized himself as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s best friend in Congress. Durbin had no trouble raising money from well-heeled Israel supporters. Durbin won the race.

In the House, he got a seat on the Appropriations Committee, where in 1993, he became chairman of the Agriculture subcommittee. Durbin’s centerpiece legislation in the House was the 1988 ban on smoking on domestic airline flights, a battle inspired by the death of his chain-smoking father. He followed that up by trying to limit tobacco subsidies and to give the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco as a health hazard—both accomplished after years of effort. “I didn’t realize it would trigger a change in America,” he later said of the airline smoking ban, but indeed it led to smoking bans in many more settings. After his onetime boss Paul Simon announced his retirement from the Senate in 1996, Durbin ran for the seat. Raising more than $1 million, he outspent former state Treasurer (now governor) Pat Quinn in the March 1996 primary and won 65%-30%. In the general, he faced trial lawyer and abortion opponent Al Salvi and won 56%-41%.

At the outset of the 114th Congress (2015-16), Reid's serious injuries in a fall kept him away from the chamber for a time, raising Durbin's profile and renewing speculation in the news media about whether he is Reid's eventual successor as Democratic leader. He and his colleagues, however, were careful not to get into his internal competition of sorts with New York's Chuck Schumer, the chamber's No. 3 Democrat. Schumer is known to covet the Democratic leader's job. With gasoline prices soaring downward, Durbin called for raising the federal gas tax "in a thoughtful way" that did not harshly affect lower-income drivers.   

In the Senate, Durbin is "one of the most skilled debaters we have," a Senate aide told National Journal in 2015. He has compiled a largely liberal voting record, though he supported welfare reform in the 1990s and has always supported the death penalty. While in the House, Durbin favored restrictions on abortion, but has opposed most legislation to restrict abortion since coming to the Senate. In 2004, the Catholic priest at his home church in Springfield said that he wouldn’t give him communion as a consequence of his position. Durbin responded by telling a local newspaper: “Is that all this Church is about, is one issue? For bishops to announce that they are going to penalize Catholics on certain votes I think is … reaching too far.”

On other domestic issues, Durbin has had a strong pro-union voting record, but split with labor on trade, supporting the North American Free Trade Agreement and normal trade relations with China—Illinois is a big exporter. But in 2006 Durbin said he felt “betrayed” by the results of NAFTA and has opposed more recent trade agreements. In 2001, Democratic Leader Tom Daschle appointed Durbin assistant floor leader. After Daschle’s defeat in 2004 and the elevation of Reid as minority leader, Durbin became minority whip, and then majority whip in 2007, after Democrats won their Senate majority.

As whip, Durbin has worked hard on the floor to advance Democratic causes and bills. He gave up a Judiciary subcommittee chairmanship to Arlen Specter when Specter switched parties in April 2009. He often appeared on cable talk shows in support of President Barack Obama’s health care reform effort, regularly accusing Republicans of misstatements and distortions, and he performed the same service in the debate over raising the federal debt limit in 2011. “He’s able to pull off the style of sounding like a moderate or compromiser when he often doesn’t act like one,” University of Illinois political scientist Brian Gaines told National Journal. During negotiations on taxes and spending aimed at averting the so-called fiscal cliff in late 2012, he exhorted Democrats to support a deal that included cuts to entitlement programs. “My liberal friends who say don’t touch it (Medicare), they’re crazy,” Durbin said at a November forum. Earlier, he served on the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission and was part of an informal group of senators that sought to reach agreement on long-term spending.

Until late 2014, Durbin and Schumer were longtime Capitol Hill roommates; their cohabitation with several House members inspired the Amazon web series Alpha House. (One longtime roommate, former Rep. George Miller of California, jokingly complained to The New York Times that the two men had at least one thing in common: "They don't pick up after themselves.") Durbin has had less contact with the Washington lobbying community than Schumer has, and while he is much more active on the Senate floor, he is seen in some quarters as more ingenuous. As one longtime Democratic staffer told Politico, “He’s a great guy. But he thinks with his heart, not his head. He’s great at communicating ideas, but not at thinking strategically.”

Durbin’s leadership position enables him to work effectively on local issues. He helped prod the Justice Department in October 2012 to help out financially strapped Illinois by buying the former state prison in Thomson, Ill., despite the objections of Virginia GOP Rep. Frank Wolf, who feared it would be used to house inmates from Guantanamo Bay. He has had a hand in securing funding for the Metra and CTA mass transit systems in the Chicago region, for Mississippi River locks and dams, and for O’Hare International Airport expansion. He has worked for ethanol tax incentives and pushed for an ethanol research pilot plant at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. On the Appropriations Committee, he keeps an eye out for Chicago’s commodities exchanges, opposing new fees on the exchanges and in 2008, working behind the scenes to soften the impact of proposed controls on speculators in the oil futures market as gas prices soared.

He picked up the highly prized chairmanship of Appropriations’ defense subcommittee in January 2013, continuing as its top Democrat in 2015. He has used the position to benefit the Rock Island Arsenal and fund the production of EA-18G Growler electronic warfare planes for the Navy, which are made at Boeing's St. Louis plant just across the Illinois line.

When it comes to his home state, he’s also loyal. After former Illinois Republican Gov. George Ryan was imprisoned for racketeering and fraud, Durbin, who had worked with Ryan on projects for the state, urged President George W. Bush to pardon him in 2008. And when Republican Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk was sidelined by a stroke in 2012, Durbin won praise from many GOP lawmakers for keeping in close touch during Kirk’s recovery and continuing to work with his office.

In a backdrop of many clashing egos in the Senate, many senators have tense relationships with home-state colleagues, but Durbin had a warm relationship with Obama after he was elected in 2004. Rather than chafing at Obama’s quick rise and celebrity, Durbin in 2006 urged him to run for president. He endorsed Obama when he announced his candidacy in February 2007 and introduced him before his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. When Obama was elected, Durbin said, “To have a president of the United States who is a close, personal friend and has the opportunity to lead this nation and change the world is a dream come true for me in public life.” Obama has called Durbin “a terrific partner.” (Durbin did not join Obama at the Election Night celebration in Chicago’s Grant Park because his 40-year-old daughter had died three days before.) Durbin again introduced him at the 2012 convention, saying, “He’s had pretty good luck when I’m on the program right before him.”

On the Judiciary Committee, Durbin strongly opposed many Bush administration judicial nominees, including John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, and strongly supported Obama administration nominees, including Supreme Court justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Durbin in 2007 was the chief sponsor of the DREAM Act, a bill to allow high school graduates who are illegal immigrants to go to U.S. colleges. He was unable to get a filibuster-proof majority for the bill, however, and the bill failed in December 2010. He became known for taking to the Senate floor regularly to highlight the stories of the DREAM Act-eligible children, and praised President Obama in June 2012 for issuing an executive order addressing the issue when it became clear that Congress would not act.

Durbin was the Democrats’ point man on efforts in 2003 to limit damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, and he successfully blocked action on the legislation. He also took a lead role on asbestos legislation that year. He negotiated with Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, on a bill that established quick recovery for injured plaintiffs and reduced the burden on businesses only tangentially connected with asbestos. But the two failed to produce a compromise bill. In 2006, he helped defeat the asbestos trust fund sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter, which would have replaced a multitude of lawsuits against the asbestos industry with a $140 billion trust fund to compensate victims. Durbin strongly opposed taking the matter out of the courts, although he conceded the need for “significant changes in the existing tort system.”

As the housing crisis deepened in 2008 and 2009, Durbin pushed for his “cram-down” bill allowing bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of distressed mortgages on primary residences in bankruptcy cases. The Senate voted 51-45 to defeat the bill, with 12 Democrats joining all the Republicans—the first big loss by Democrats in the 111th Congress. When the Senate was considering the financial regulation bill in May 2010, Durbin worked with his colleagues on a successful amendment giving the Federal Reserve authority to reduce the fees banks charge merchants for processing debit card transactions over the strong objections of the banking industry. Banks warned that Durbin’s amendment would end free checking and that consumer prices would rise, but no such effects occurred. To protect consumers from paying hidden fees, he later called on banks to publish a one-page listing of the fees and terms of their checking accounts.

Durbin voted against the Gulf War resolution in 1991 and the Iraq war resolution in 2002. In 2005, Durbin was at the center of a storm over remarks he made from the Senate floor concerning detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Citing an FBI report that described the mistreatment of some prisoners, Durbin likened the American interrogators to “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime—Pol Pot or others—that had no concern for human beings.” His comments dominated the news for days. Durbin at first said he regretted the misunderstanding of his remarks, but after then-Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley criticized them, he issued an emotional apology from the floor.

Durbin was mentioned briefly in 2000 as a possible vice presidential nominee, but he ultimately withdrew his name from consideration. In his 2008 reelection campaign, Durbin was opposed by physician Steven Sauerberg, who loaned his campaign $1.7 million and spent only $1 million, while Durbin spent $13 million. Sauerberg criticized Durbin for his 2005 “Nazis” statement, but the issue proved to have little traction. Durbin won 68%-29%.

Durbin underwent surgery in 2010 for the removal of a small gastrointestinal stromal tumor from his stomach, which later was found to be benign. He subsequently dropped 20 pounds after reading a book on how to overcome the effects of aging. The Chicago Sun-Times reported in June 2012 that he told colleagues he was considering retiring in 2014, when he turned 70. But he said in March 2013 that he would seek another term—a development that relieved Democrats who had seen four other veteran senators from their party announce their departures.

Durbin's Republican opponent was Jim Oberweis, a dairy magnate and state senator who had run unsuccessful Senate campaigns in 2002 and 2004, along with failed bids for governor in 2006 and a U.S. House seat in 2008. He criticized Durbin for being a "career politician," but that argument stood little chance against the incumbent's proven popularity and massive fundraising advantage. Durbin won easily, piling up more than $9 million while Oberweis took in just $1 million, loaning his campaign another $1 million.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-2152

(202) 228-0400

HSOB- Hart Senate Office Building Room 711
Washington, DC 20510-1304

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-2152

(202) 228-0400

HSOB- Hart Senate Office Building Room 711
Washington, DC 20510-1304

DISTRICT OFFICE

(312) 353-4952

(312) 353-0150

John C. Kluczynski Federal Building Suite 3892
Chicago, IL 60604-1505

DISTRICT OFFICE

(312) 353-4952

(312) 353-0150

John C. Kluczynski Federal Building Suite 3892
Chicago, IL 60604-1505

DISTRICT OFFICE

(217) 492-4062

(217) 492-4382

525 South Eighth Street
Springfield, IL 62703-1606

DISTRICT OFFICE

(217) 492-4062

(217) 492-4382

525 South Eighth Street
Springfield, IL 62703-1606

DISTRICT OFFICE

(618) 351-1122

(618) 351-1124

250 West Cherry Street Suite 115-D
Carbondale, IL 62901

DISTRICT OFFICE

(618) 351-1122

(618) 351-1124

250 West Cherry Street Suite 115-D
Carbondale, IL 62901

DISTRICT OFFICE

(309) 786-5173

(309) 786-5404

1504 Third Avenue Suite 227
Rock Island, IL 61201

DISTRICT OFFICE

(309) 786-5173

(309) 786-5404

1504 Third Avenue Suite 227
Rock Island, IL 61201

Staff Leadership Staff

Sort by: Interest Name Title

Abortion

Julian Miller
Legislative Correspondent

Debu Gandhi
Legislative Correspondent

Acquisitions

Rob Leonard
Legislative Assistant

Chris Homan
National Security and Foreign Policy Advisor

Aerospace

Erum Ibrahim
Legislative Aide

Chris Homan
National Security and Foreign Policy Advisor

Agriculture

Michael Kenny
Floor Assistant

Timothy McMahon
Legislative Correspondent

LaKeisha Steele
Legislative Correspondent

Animal Rights

Erum Ibrahim
Legislative Aide

Kevin Lefeber
Legislative Correspondent

Timothy McMahon
Legislative Correspondent

Appropriations

Rob Leonard
Legislative Assistant

Chris Homan
National Security and Foreign Policy Advisor

Arts

Brad Middleton
Legislative Assistant

LaKeisha Steele
Legislative Correspondent

Banking

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Legislative Director

Julian Miller
Legislative Correspondent

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Legislative Assistant

Corey Tellez
Legislative Director

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Legislative Correspondent

Chris Homan
National Security and Foreign Policy Advisor

Commerce

Timothy McMahon
Legislative Correspondent

Communication

Michael Kenny
Floor Assistant

Consumers

Corey Tellez
Legislative Director

Disaster

Anne Kierig
Legislative Assistant

LaKeisha Steele
Legislative Correspondent

Economics

Timothy McMahon
Legislative Correspondent

Education

Brad Middleton
Legislative Assistant

John Neureuther
Deputy Speechwriter

LaKeisha Steele
Legislative Correspondent

Energy

Erum Ibrahim
Legislative Aide

Jasmine Hunt
Legislative Assistant

Ed Hynes
Legislative Correspondent

Kevin Lefeber
Legislative Correspondent

Environment

Erum Ibrahim
Legislative Aide

Jasmine Hunt
Legislative Assistant

Rob Leonard
Legislative Assistant

Ed Hynes
Legislative Correspondent

Kevin Lefeber
Legislative Correspondent

Family

LaKeisha Steele
Legislative Correspondent

Finance

Julian Miller
Legislative Correspondent

Foreign

Erum Ibrahim
Legislative Aide

Elizabeth Lawrence
Foreign Policy Fellow

Chris Homan
National Security and Foreign Policy Advisor

Gambling

Govt Ops

Mari Naganuma
Legislative Correspondent

Grants

Claire Grant
Legislative Correspondent; Intern Coordinator

Gun Issues

Joseph Zogby
Staff Director; Chief Counsel

Health

John Neureuther
Deputy Speechwriter

Julian Miller
Legislative Correspondent

Claire Grant
Legislative Correspondent; Intern Coordinator

Homeland Security

Anne Kierig
Legislative Assistant

Joseph Zogby
Staff Director; Chief Counsel

LaKeisha Steele
Legislative Correspondent

Housing

Corey Tellez
Legislative Director

Julian Miller
Legislative Correspondent

Human Rights

Joseph Zogby
Staff Director; Chief Counsel

Immigration

Joseph Zogby
Staff Director; Chief Counsel

Insurance

Corey Tellez
Legislative Director

Julian Miller
Legislative Correspondent

Intelligence

Rob Leonard
Legislative Assistant

Joseph Zogby
Staff Director; Chief Counsel

Internet

Erum Ibrahim
Legislative Aide

Rob Leonard
Legislative Assistant

Judiciary

Joseph Zogby
Staff Director; Chief Counsel

Debu Gandhi
Legislative Correspondent

Labor

Michael Kenny
Floor Assistant

Timothy McMahon
Legislative Correspondent

Land Use

Military

Erum Ibrahim
Legislative Aide

Rob Leonard
Legislative Assistant

Joseph Zogby
Staff Director; Chief Counsel

Minorities

Public Works

Michael Kenny
Floor Assistant

Alyssa Fisher
Legislative Assistant

Science

Erum Ibrahim
Legislative Aide

Rob Leonard
Legislative Assistant

Social Security

John Neureuther
Deputy Speechwriter

Tax

Corey Tellez
Legislative Director

Technology

Erum Ibrahim
Legislative Aide

Rob Leonard
Legislative Assistant

Trade

Michael Kenny
Floor Assistant

Corey Tellez
Legislative Director

Julian Miller
Legislative Correspondent

Transportation

Michael Kenny
Floor Assistant

Alyssa Fisher
Legislative Assistant

Mari Naganuma
Legislative Correspondent

Veterans

Erum Ibrahim
Legislative Aide

Anne Kierig
Legislative Assistant

Rob Leonard
Legislative Assistant

Welfare

Julian Miller
Legislative Correspondent

Women

John Neureuther
Deputy Speechwriter

Julian Miller
Legislative Correspondent

Election Results

2008 GENERAL
Dick Durbin
Votes: 3,615,844
Percent: 67.84%
Steve Sauerberg
Votes: 1,520,621
Percent: 28.53%
2008 PRIMARY
Dick Durbin
Votes: 1,653,833
Percent: 100.0%
Prior Winning Percentages
2002 (60%); 1996 (56%); House: 1994 (55%); 1992 (57%); 1990 (66%); 1988 (69%); 1986 (68%); 1984 (61%); 1982 (50%)

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